FARMINGTON — Franklin County commissioners voted 2-1  Thursday to again table a shelter-in-place contingency plan for dispatchers at the Regional Communications Center until it’s necessary.

Chairman Terry Brann of Wilton and Commissioner Charles Webster of Farmington voted for tabling, Commissioner Clyde Barker of Strong voted against it.

Brann suggested tabling the plan until it’s needed, such as if some dispatchers call in and say they have the COVID-19 virus.

Dispatcher Dawn Tolman told commissioners during the teleconference call that she understood there were parts of the plan commissioners did not like. She asked them what could be done to make it work for commissioners.

“I also think you need an emergency plan for a disaster,” she said, and not wait until the disaster happens.

Commissioners voiced concerns Monday about male and female dispatchers sleeping at the Communications Center and not wanting to pay dispatchers who are not working during a two-week shift. Other concerns included using a personal camper for showers, not knowing what the plan would cost the county, and the mental health of dispatchers being isolated at the center.

Commissioners approved the plan last week, but Monday balked at implementing it.

It calls for four dispatchers to stay at the Communications Center for two weeks at a time. Two dispatchers would work 12 hours, while the other two dispatchers rested. Once the first 12-hour shift is over, the dispatchers who were off duty at the center would work the next 12 hours. After two weeks that team of dispatchers would swap off with another team of dispatchers.

Tolman said dispatchers already have a staffing issue. There are seven full-time dispatchers to fill eight shifts but there could possibly be one less if one is mandated to stay home and self-quarantine because of a possible secondary exposure to COVID-19. There are also three dispatchers who are untrained and cannot work alone.

Acting Communication Director Amanda Simoneau said they do need a plan. The exposure to the virus in the Farmington area has escalated to a concerning number, she said.

Other agencies are facing the same problem, including other communications centers. An emergency plan is needed and without one there is a risk, she said.

“It is a risk to our citizens and our first responders who are our responsibility,” Simoneau said.

While Brann and Webster wanted to table it, Barker said he voted no.

“I think we should have it in place,” he said. “I know what it is like because I went through it during the Ice Storm” in 1998. He was the county’s emergency management director at the time.

Webster later said he would be willing to work with dispatchers to develop an acceptable plan.

In other business, commissioners denied a request from the National Correctional Employees Union to give corrections officers hazard pay during the pandemic.

County officers and officials can take emergency action mirroring that of Gov. Janet Mills and order hazard pay of $3 to $5 more per hour for the remainder of this pandemic, according to a letter from a regional union director.

Brann and Webster said they were offended by the request because they have a negotiated contract that gave corrections officers a pay increase.


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